Data from past space weather may help us better understand the future cosmic events and plan for any potential threats they may pose to Earth, scientists say. Space weather can disrupt electronics, aviation and satellite systems and communications, said researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK. This depends on solar activity, but as this is different for each solar cycle, the overall likelihood of space weather events can be difficult to forecast, they said.
The researchers charted the space weather in previous solar cycles across the last half century. They discovered an underlying repeatable pattern in how space weather activity changes with the solar cycle, according to the study published in the journal Space Weather. The Sun goes through solar cycles around every eleven years, during which time the number of sunspots increases to the maximum point (the ‘solar maximum’). More solar activity means more solar flares, which in turn can mean more extreme space weather at Earth.
“This breakthrough will allow better understanding and planning for space weather, and for any future threats it may pose to the Earth,” researchers said.
The study shows that space weather and the activity of the Sun are not entirely random – and may constrain how likely large weather events are in future cycles.
“We analysed the last five solar maxima and found that although the overall likelihood of more extreme events varied from one solar maximum to another, there is an underlying pattern to their likelihood, which does not change,” said Sandra Chapman, a professor at the University of Warwick. “If this pattern persists into the next solar maximum, our research, which constrains how likely large events are, will allow better preparation for potential space weather threats to Earth,” said Chapman.
The drivers of space weather, the Sun and solar wind, and the response seen at Earth, have now been almost continually monitored by ground and space based observations over the last five solar cycles (more than fifty years). Each solar cycle has a different duration and peak activity level, and, as a consequence the climate of Earth’s space weather has also been different at each solar maximum. The more extreme events are less frequent so that it is harder to build up a statistical picture of how likely they are to occur.